Thursday, May 25, 2006

Philco Radio

Dave Potchak

I didn’t have my own bedroom. I had to share one with my younger brother. And it wasn’t laden with electrical appliances and gadgets, at least not compared to an adolescent’s bedroom today. But what this 12 year-old did have was a Philco AM radio, and I was as tickled with that as I was with having my own bed. The radio was all mine too, given to me by my dad, and it became a part of my media connection to sports in an era when there was very little else to make that tie.

I‘d catch every Pittsburgh Pirate ball game I could. WJAC in Johnstown picked up the broadcast from KDKA in Pittsburgh. With his relentless rat a tat tat style of delivery, “The Gunner,” legendary Bob Prince called the “play-by-play” and supplemented his own hue of color at the same time. His comments became imbedded in my brain as much as the names of my favorite Pirate players. Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, Bill Mazeroski, Bill Virdon, The Deacon (Vernon Law), Dick Stuart and Elroy Face were just a few of the names I heard often.

“We had ‘em all the way,” Prince shouted at the end of every close game won by the Pirates, and “that’s a can of corn in Bobby’s glove!” as Clemente routinely made a thigh-high, basket catch of a fly ball in right field. Prince could magically pull out a win from the booth like no other. “All we need now is a bloop and a blast,” he’d wish out loud.

Combined with my prayers we divinely influenced many a game. I can still hear him cry out “Arriba, Arriba,” as Clemente came to bat with runners on. I enjoyed listening to him as much or more than seeing a game in person. I tuned in to both home and away games. Sunday afternoons, weekday evenings, it made no difference to me - I listened to every game. But, my favorite games were those that the Pirates played on the west coast.

After wishing mom and dad a “goodnight,” I’d hit the sack around 10:00, but didn’t have the slightest intention of going to sleep. Around 10:30 I turned on the old Philco, waited the usual 3 or 4 minutes for it to warm up, and then didn’t miss a pitch until the game ended, sometimes in the early hours of the following morning. Extra innings – I loved them! “You look tired,” mom said often the following morning, as I got ready for school. “Are you feeling ok?” she’d ask.

To this day I don’t know if my parents had any idea how many times I lay awake back then, listening to those games. I know I looked more tired and irritated if the “Buccos” lost. Win or lose, I was their biggest 12 year-old fan in the world.

That radio was made of a brittle yellow plastic and it was nicely equipped with only two black knobs, which promptly fell off if you weren’t careful. Chipped and cracked corners enhanced its décor. A small light bulb illuminated the station selections which were located in a semi-circle under a transparent cover, so scratched you could barely see the digits.

I remember the rotating needle and how it drifted off every couple of minutes and how you had to adjust the knob often to keep WJAC tuned in. The reception faded in and out too, and a static-like interference was common. Rain, lightning or a plane-flying overhead, were constant deterrents from a clear broadcast. None of that bothered me very much though. I was more concerned when Jerry Lynch hit a pinch-hit homer in extra innings to pull out a Pirate win. It was almost as if he was responding to Prince’s encouragement from the booth, because on more than one occasion it was predicted.

I’d cheer out-loud when Willie Mays (the predecessor to Pete Rose’s nickname of Mr. Hustle) slapped a single to right, took the turn too wide around first, and Clemente would rifle him down as he slid back into the bag. I could visualize the fact that Clemente made a habit of lethargically picking up the ball, only to entice Mays to take that wide turn. “You think he’d know better by now,” I said to myself.

I loved the intra-state rival games with the Phillies too. Prince dared to compare Clemente with Philadelphia’s great right fielder, Johnny Callison. Both possessed explosive arms that could propel a ball from deep right to home with great accuracy. Prince proudly pointed out, though, that Clemente was a complete player; he was a better hitter, better power hitter and better fielder than Callison. I wondered then, as I do now, what Philly fans think of that comparison.

I don’t know how old that Philco radio was when my dad gave it to me. I do know it still worked all through my high school and college years and then just disappeared sometime later. Yes, it was old, but it was an incredible piece of electronics for its day. I never had to replace a tube – it had no transistors. The FM feature, so popular today, was an extraordinary luxury that my radio didn’t have. It also did not function as a clock and I am glad it didn’t. I really didn’t want to know what time it was while listening to those games, and if I did know the time, it wouldn’t have stopped me from continuing anyway.

You see, before there where CD’s, stereo-phonic sound systems, digitally programmed radios and satellite receivers, there existed true fans and a love of baseball. And long before the world revolved around space-age electronics, there was a 12 year-old kid who loved to listen to the Pirates on an old AM radio. Today, I am sure I would not trade that memory for all the Radio Shack, Circuit City and Rex franchises in the world.

2 comments:

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